I JUST NEEDED a quiet corner to curl up in, to finish writing. I had spent a year reporting a story, which was set to run in Sunday's newspaper. But my son had been invited to a dance competition, so we had driven almost two hours to Orlando, to a Disney resort. While he rehearsed, I had to finish editing the project.
It was too loud in the ballroom where his class was practicing. Even in the hall, the hip-hop tunes throbbed. I went to the lobby. Light rock was wafting above the armchairs. I tried the restaurant. The bar TV blared some soccer game; the commentators kept shouting. There was a couch in the ladies' room that would have worked. But 1970s songs spilled into the stalls. Outside by the pool, pop tunes overpowered the children's squeals.
I wanted to scream, but that would only have added to the din.
So I started walking toward the parking lot, where speakers blasted Disney tunes from the light posts, wondering how far I would have to journey to find some semblance of silence.
The good old days must have been quiet. Before cars rumbled down roads, and planes roared overhead, and radios and televisions piped people and music, conversations and advertising into every imaginable void, it must have been nice to sit on your porch and be able to hear bird songs or walk into a cafe and have a conversation without having to shout over some TV show or Top 40 tune.
It's hard to pinpoint when it happened on such a large scale. When did restaurants start serving sounds with their specials? Or doctors' offices add TV talk shows to their waiting rooms? Or grocery stores begin scoring their own soundtracks?
Are we really that afraid of hearing nothing? Are we trying to mute what's in our heads? Are we more interested in listening to others than ourselves?
My parents always have the Weather Channel on. Even when they're not watching it, their background noise warns of impending disasters. My husband is a drummer and music teacher; his love and work are loud. Our elder son plays snare in his marching band drum line. The younger one tap dances and belts Broadway tunes. Our cattle dog never shuts up.
Even when everyone is gone and the dog is outside, the tank for our turtle gurgles so loudly that I have to unplug it to hear what's in my head.
I keep a note pad on the back of my toilet. I write most of my stories in the shower, where the water stream muffles my family's music and voices. It's the only time I feel isolated enough to create.
We need to eliminate the constant noise. Businesses and public places have to stop injecting streams of sound into our suppers and subways. And instead of hiding our ears with headphones, or filling our homes with TV prattle, we need to create enough quiet to tune into our thoughts.
That afternoon in Orlando, I wound up walking to the edge of the expansive parking lot with songs from Frozen following me the whole way. Finally, I gave up and found my car, closed the windows, cranked the air conditioning and pulled out my story.
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